chapter  1
16 Pages

Geomorphic Process Data Needs for Environmental Management

WithA.G. Everett

Societal demands leading to an increase in the intensity of land use, coupled with protection of the environment are requiring increasing use of data from physical and chemical surface and near-surface processes involving the atmosphere, lithosphere, and hydrosphere. These interrelated processes are attracting increased attention from many disciplines but foremost among them should be geomorphology, for which the traditional focus has been such processes and their interrelationships.

A variety of land uses contribute to the need for process rate data: mineral and energy development; industrial, commercial, residential, and recreational development; and waste repositories, especially for the more toxic or polluting forms of wastes. To minimize the costs of maintenance during use, and, perhaps even more important, long-term maintenance over centuries, landforms of long-term stability should be designed and processes having slow rates of change should be utilized. Data for such design are not readily available in the scientific literature. Quantitative data on the short-term rates of processes under varying conditions are exceedingly scarce and are not commonly available. The more readily available estimates are for periods of thousands of years. Contrasting short-term rates for processes common to arid, temperate, and humid climates are virtually unknown. Despite several centuries of work describing landforms qualitatively, methods for rigorous quantitative analysis of process rates, including their variability, are not extensively available for application to monitoring or design problems in surface and shallow subsurface environments.

In this paper the need for such data is stressed, using various examples of slope stability and of geochemical and material transport problems associated with coal and uranium mining in arid regions of the western United States, with lignite and coal reclamation in more temperate regions such as central Texas and the eastern United States, and with recent problems associated with mining under humid tropical conditions in Papua New Guinea. Tropical environments may serve as excellent natural laboratories for certain processes that will occur under temperate and arid conditions as well as humid, but over a longer time period.